Monday, September 25, 2006


Saturday night found me doing something that I rarely do anymore: I saw an independent film that specified that no one under the age of 17 would be admitted without the accopmaniment of an adult. Yes, gentle readers, I saw an R-rated film, and in a movie theater, no less. And it was first-run too!

Ah, the pleasures of parenthood! 95% of the films we have seen in theaters in the last decade have been family movies, so when the movie Factotum was released last month, I had little hope in seeing it on "the big screen".

However, Saturday found Melanie at a bachelorette party in the East Village, and Mom-in-Law offered to watch the kiddies (they watched Zathura). So, I got the opportunity to pick my own form of entertainment and opted for Factotum.

It's likely many of you have not heard of this film, starring Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Fisher Stevens and Marisa Tomei. It has had a typical indie limited release, and has grossed just about half a million dollars. That is, less than what Pirates of the Carribean: The Legend of the Blockbuster Goldmine made on its first day (if not first hour) in theaters.

Factotum is a term for someone who does a lot of different jobs, and is the title of a Charles Bukowski novel on which this movie is based.

The protagonist, Henry Chinaski, has been protrayed by Mickey Rourke (in the 1987 film Barfly) before, but Matt Dillon dispatches that caricature with a much more subtle and controlled performance than Rourke's over-the-top brawler from the earlier film.

Dillon does a fine job playing the humor in the most banal and downtrodden life situations. He is supported by turns from Lilli Taylor and Marisa Tomei, as well as a small role by Fisher Stevens. Norwegian director Bent Haner co-wrote the screenplay which shows Chinaski in a brutal, yet sympathetic light. Dillon's character is abrasive and occasionally cruel, yet he is still endearing and likeable.

The film is oddly timeless. Bukowski fans know this is an L.A. character, yet the novel roamed across the country in different locales. I couldn't quite place the setting. At one point it looked like New York, and then later like Los Angeles. The closing credits revealed that the film was shot on location entirely in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

And we are not sure when this is all happening. There are old cars and new cars. The roominghouse Chinaski uses seems like a throwback, yet there is a modern undercurrent. There is smoking in the restaurants and bars, in the workplace even, which is so alien nowadays. In one scene, in which Chinaski speaks to a manager about his last paycheck, the office is conspicuously lacking any computer or typewriter, yet there is a computer magazine prominently displayed on the desk. It is oddly disorienting, yet such a feeling lends so much to the timelessness of the film.

The soundtrack was composed by Kristin Asbjornsen, and was hauntingly perfect.

Here's a trailer:

There's another trailer here, but I won't post it here because it's a European cut with scenes that wouldn't play with the ratings board. You get a better feel for the music, which can also be heard on the film website, linked with the title of this post.

The critic Kenneth Turan, on NPR, made the following observations:

Factotum is a delicate melding of a trio of different sensibilities you wouldn't think would naturally cohere.

It gracefully combines the bleak world of the despairing poet and novelist Charles Bukowski with the droll point of view of Norwegian director Bent Hamer, and the distinctly American independent acting style of stars Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor. They play, respectively, Henry Chinaski -- Bukowski's alter ego -- and his enabling girlfriend.

What results is surprisingly satisfying, true to both Bukowski and the movie itself.

Check it out if you can, otherwise, catch it on DVD.


Reel Fanatic said...

I can't wait to see this one, but as you pointed out, movies this good just don't get to play in my little corner of the world very often ... My brother thought he might have a momentary brush with fame in this, in a scene at the race track shout outside Minneapolis, but apparently he ended up on the cutting room floor

Anonymous said...

You got to pick your own entertainment-Why didn't you just go to a bar or a strip club?

Tattoosday said...

Because a movie is cheaper, and this movie had enough bar scenes, as well as one in a strip club (and throw in a nude love scene with Marisa Tomei), so I killed three, four birds with one stone.

Besides, the person sitting next to me had been drinking and the aroma of alcohol gave me an extra smell-o-rama bonus!

Anonymous said...

I do not appreciate you getting your nights mixed up.
Saturday night was Rosh Hashana. How could I have possibly been at a party for a lovely southerner marrying a handsome Greek gent?